Jim/Marlow: Public vs Private truths

“Its extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it’s just as well; and it may be that it is this very dulness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had see, hear, understand ever so much- everything- in a flash- before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence” (110). I was drawn to this passage as I was reading the novel for I felt that while we have talking about how modernism reiterates that there is no fixity of truths; it can never really be as easy to distance ourselves from the “truths” presented to us through socialisation for they provide an order in which we live our lives. There are times where we may discover different truths for ourselves. However, society does not allow us to act on these truths for they threaten the order and form of our lives. Perhaps, this also relates to the lecture we had on modernism and empire as a crisis of politcal economy and its concern with the social contract.

Jim has to fulfil certain expectations of that as a sailor which is reinforced by Marlow’s reference to an unwritten code of conduct that sailors have to uphold regardless of their predicaments. This code of conduct serves as a form of truth for Jim. Although it is explicitly made known to us that he only endeavours to become a sailor after reading some “light literature,” and that he becomes part of the Patna crew through unforeseen circumstances, he is unable to deal with the guilt and shame arising from his violation of the expectations laid out for him because of the social responsibility he has. This is representative of the dilemma of having to choose between a public and a private truth for almost everyone who forms part of a society. The private truth is representative of freedom and the allowance of an alternative truth and perspective to things but it may be detrimental to the big “T.” As seen, Jim with his private truth wanders from job and job. He is only able to instill order in his life again when he integrates into Patusan through accepting another public truth.

This contestation between the public and private truth is evident in Marlow. With “Heart Of Darkness,” we have seen how he always takes a step back from seeing the truth every time he has a chance and with him as the narrator of Jim’s story, once again, we see instances in which he steps away from the truth. He pieces together Jim’s story, and through various retellings, he seems to be enforcing a certain truth, a big picture despite the awareness that the fragmentations may reveal differing “truths.” Yet, it is the act of retelling which entrenches the truth which Marlow wants to present because it enforces a form of order in the novel. The death of Jim is then significant for it can be viewed as the only way with which this order/ truth remains unchallenged.